Expectantly waiting for Christmas
At Taizé, throughout Advent, expectation for Christmas has been growing. From one Sunday to the next, a crib in African style, echoing the meeting in Kigali, has been evolving outside the Church of Reconciliation. On the evening of the 24th, after the Eucharist for Christmas Eve, brothers, volunteers and visitors present will go to sing in the joy of the Nativity beside it.
In recent weeks, in addition to young people from Europe and also South Korea and the United States, a Lebanese delegation has visited Taizé for a weekend, led by Archbishop Gemayel, the new Maronite Bishop in Paris. At the same time, a group of teachers and students of the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey were on the hill for their annual visit. The month of December also saw visits by French and Swiss pastors, including the president of the Reformed Church of France, Laurent Schlumberger.
All Saints: Thousands of young people in Taizé for the autumn holidays
During the last few weeks around 6500 people have been in Taizé, either side of the Feast of All Saints. There were large groups from Sweden, Spain, Italy, Germany and Belgium, but the great majority of the visitors were French. These young people come from every region of France for three successive sessions over the two week holiday period. Brother Alois spoke to them one evening in the Church of Reconciliation:
You’ve come in such numbers from different regions of France this week. The brothers, we’re happy to welcome you and also to welcome those who are accompanying you and who’ve prepared you so well for the stay - your youth leaders and catechists, lay people, priests, pastors and bishops.I would also like to greet the young people from other countries.Just like you I arrived in Taizé on Sunday evening, after three weeks away. I was invited to take part in a synod in Rome bringing together bishops from across the world.It was a beautiful experience of the universality of the Church. These bishops didn’t hide their worries while searching for how to better communicate the Gospel in a world which has changed so much. Many insisted on the importance of searching for how to deepen a personal relationship with God. The pope, despite his age, was present and listened attentively.Retourning from Rome I left behind several of our brothers and young volunteers who have been staying in Taizé for a year. Together with the young people of the city of Rome they are preparing our next European Meeting. They are preparing to welcome the young people of Europe in families and parishes from the 28 December. For six days we will hold community prayers in the great roman basilicas.Tomorrow evening we will celebrate the Feast of All Saints. At the beginning of the Eucharist a young African from Senegal will enter our community. He will receive the white robe that we wear for the prayer. He has already been several times to Taizé and he also shared the life of our brothers in a poor neighbourhood of Dakar.
October: Autumn rhythm on the hill
Throughout the autumn groups from Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland as well as from other European countries continue to take part in the meetings for a week or for a few days. A new brother, from France, entered the community, receiving the white prayer robe during the prayer one evening during September. And for several weeks an Orthodox monk from Belarus is staying with us in Taizé.
At the same time the work teams led by the young volunteers repair and put away all the things from the summer: the family quarter "Olinda" has been closed for the winter and a lot of the tents have been taken down. Making the most of the calmer period, the young volunteers staying for year to help with the welcome spent some time reflecting together on the theme of hospitality as a reflection of universal solidarity.
During the month of September Christian communities throughout the world pray for creation, at the invitation of the Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople who Brother Alois will visit, along with 100 young people in January. In Taizé, among the regular intentions we also pray "for those who devote their strength to the protection of creation". And in the romanesque village church in Taizé the stained glass window of Francis of Assisi reminds us of his pioneering role with his call to simplify our way of life.
The Church, One Family
Gabriel (The Philippines)
During a meeting between volunteers and leaders of the Protestant Church of Germany, including the Chairman Nikolaus Schneider, we first talked about our common life, understanding between different people and links created with thousands of people around the world. So our stay here is based on the Gospel and is an experience of learning a life where God is at the centre.
One of us asked the guests how they would define a Church with is alive, and they mentioned the importance for the Church to be a place where all consider themselves as members of the same family. Similarly, in Taizé, Christians come together as one body in the Church of Reconciliation and the pastor’s conclusion was, "You are my hope for the unity of the Christian Churches."
Understanding and Acceptance
This was my first visit to Taizé and I was very happy to stay as a volunteer for a month and a half. At first, some things were new to me but it wasn’t difficult to adapt to the life of the community. The first thing that struck me was the large number of young people who come here, but also the fact that they remain silent for the entire prayer. Of all the work I was given to do, I particularly liked the work in the church. What I will remember from my time here is that we all come from very different political, cultural and religious backgrounds, but it is the Christian spirit in all of us that unites us. As an Orthodox Christian, I will continue to carry with me the understanding and acceptance that I found in the other Christians that I met and with whom I lived and shared during my stay.
"You have helped me so much, thank you!"
After coming to Taizé for Holy Week, I decided to return to spend the whole summer here since I was free from university. For two and a half months I had a great time as a volunteer, which made a real mark on my life. At the end of the summer, someone I did not recognize came up to me and said, "You’re the one I spoke to when I arrived after a long journey, you helped me so much, thank you." As I didn’t remember the incident, it showed me that one of the most important things during my stay was just doing what God asks: to love your neighbour even to the point that you don’t even remember when we did.
September: At the end of the summer, the meetings continue
On 9 September, the Sunday Eucharist was broadcast live from Taizé on the TV channel France 2 as part of the programme “Le jour du Seigneur”, with the community of brothers and the thousand young people present this week. The programme included four short reports presenting the community and the welcome of the young as well as a live interview with Brother Alois. During the celebration, a meditation was given by Brother Alois.
The busy summer weeks are now over. With smaller numbers of young participants, the international meetings still continue from week to week. Weather problems made life a bit more complicated in late August, mainly due to a storm and a strong hailstorm, which fortunately did not cause any accidents.
Several church leaders recently visited Taizé, including the Catholic bishops of Bamberg in Germany, Archbishop Ludwig Schick, and Soissons in France, Hervé Giraud. From Germany, the community also welcomed the president of the Protestant Church in Germany, Präses Nikolaus Schneider, as well as the Lutheran bishops Markus Dröge from Berlin, visiting for a few hours, and Jochen Bohl, who came from Dresden with a large group of young people. From Britain, bishops from the Anglican dioceses of Coventry, Hereford, Manchester, Southwark and Winchester came to visit.
Another important visit was that of Bishop Servilien Nzakamwita, Catholic Bishop of Byumba in Rwanda, in charge of youth ministry in his country. He stayed in Taizé for several days, a few weeks before the international meeting of young adults to be held in Kigali from 14-18 November. During his stay, he met with the brothers, the volunteers, and the young people from Africa who were in Taizé this summer.
As stated by Brother Alois in one of the meetings that took place every Thursday evening in the Church of Reconciliation, “In Taizé we have, week after week throughout the year, the experience that Christ can bring us together beyond all borders. This communion is a miracle that never ceases to amaze us. It is by living such a miracle that the reconciled Church could become the nucleus of a universal communion.”
Workshops with young people from Ukraine ↑ and Korea ↓
Towards a new solidarity: some workshops at Taizé
Initiated in Berlin by Brother Alois, the journey “towards a new solidarity” was marked this summer in Taizé by several workshops dealing with the topic. Some brought together young visitors and volunteers, others were animated by outsiders who spoke about their commitment in the European Parliament or the Global Fund to fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. In the most recent one, Jérôme Vignon, chairman of the “Semaines Sociales de France,” raised especially these two questions: “Must generosity come to save solidarity?” and also “How can young Europeans give new life to solidarity among nations?”
August: The Feast of the Transfiguration celebrated at the height of summer
Throughout the summer, the meeting have brought together between 3000 and 4500 people each week. Earlier this week, the icon of the Transfiguration was placed in the choir of the church to mark this feast, celebrated on the 6th August. As every year, it’s in early August that the number of participants in the weekly meetings reaches its peak. The Church of Reconciliation and its extensions were too small for the 4000 visitors, and a second place of worship was opened in a tent nearby.
This week the young participants come from 75 different countries. There are of course many Europeans each week, but there are also groups coming from the United States, Israel, Korea. In the last few days visitors from Haiti and China were given an especially warm welcomed. Bishop Rivière, the Bishop of Autun, the diocese where Taizé is located, came to visit the community. The Secretary General of the Global Fund against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria led several meetings around the theme of global solidarity, springing from the theme of Brother Alois’ letter for 2012.
On the same path which leads to God
"Young adults and children, we could all could spend a few day in prayer, singing, sharing and silence that we sometimes need very much. It was a sharing of experience and invaluable advice, but also funny stories - here, we share everything, what unites people from different countries and continents. Common life here in Taizé is built by each and every one. And we are all on the same path which leads to God."
With God and with each other
A Christian cannot be Christian if he is alone, and here I found a strong emphasis on the importance of community life, sharing and prayer together to communicate with God and with each other. It encourages me to live simply, and build trust and peace with others.
Do not be afraid to meet others!
Lucie (Czech Republic)
For me, it’s a little mystery, but in Taizé it’s sometimes so easy to have a very interesting conversation with someone from another country or even another continent. Among those I met during my stay was a boy from Korea. When we were talking and when he asked me some questions, I felt he really knew me from the inside. I think at Taizé, we can not only meet God during prayers at the church but also through the people. Do not be afraid to meet others!
July: Summer in full swing
Since the beginning of July, each week sees the number of visitors to Taizé growing. At the same time the diversity of the participants also becomes greater and greater. Among the groups from especially far away were young people from Thailand, China, Israel, and also visitors from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are a lot of volunteers from Africa, Asia, the Americas, Oceania, as well as from Europe, staying in Taizé for several weeks or months.
We have also had several Church leaders visiting the community: Pastor Setri Nyomi from Ghana, General Secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches; Archbishop Minnerath of Dijon and several Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops from England, Italy and Porto Rico; an Orthodox professor from Thessaloniki; Father Quicke from the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, among others.
Among the special events highlighting the diverse backgrounds of the participants, some were led by American musicians, young people from Denmark and a youth choir from Belarus. Several new themed workshops have been launched recently: "The mystery of the face, seen by ten photographers", "Theatre Workshop: discover a biblical passage differently", "The life of faith: a call for creativity and intelligence". Among many others, the workshops on "Solidarity with all creation: our responsibility to tomorrow’s world" continue to bring together young people week after week.
The celebrations of Ascension and Pentecost were spent together with several thousand young people. Besides those from all over Europe, some had a long journey from the U.S.A. or Korea, Hong Kong or Rwanda. During these international meetings, our prayers were particularly united with the sufferings of the Syrian people, with those of the victims of the earthquake in northern Italy and with the children of refugee camps in Darfur.
If we listen to God with trust, anything is possible
This was my first visit to Taizé, and I had been waiting for this moment. From the beginning I was touched by the simplicity. It allows us, the young participants, to discover what is most important in our lives - in this simplicity I could feel the full freedom of human beings.
I came here to celebrate Pentecost with people from around the world. We were from different cultural backgrounds, we had all had different experiences in life, but despite this we discovered that we had the same goal: finding the source deep within our soul. We spoke about fundamental questions of our faith. And all the answers are summarized in one word: trust. If we listen to God with confidence, anything is possible!
During my stay, I spent two days in silence. It was a great experience: now I know I should be more responsible for the words I use. Even more, I could open myself to God’s presence in silence. It was the best preparation for the feast of Pentecost. I know that the week in Taizé was a new beginning in my own pilgrimage of trust. With the new experiences I had here, I want to share the joy that was given to me.
May: The international meetings continue all through the spring
Since Easter, the meetings in Taizé continue , bringing together each week between 1000 and 1500 young people, mostly from Germany, France, Netherlands and Sweden. At the beginning of May, a group came from Moscow. They were accompanied by an Orthodox priest who, at the end of one of the prayers, blessed two new icons: the hospitality of Abraham (representing the Trinity) and Christ the Saviour, painted by one of the brothers.
During the meeting in Berlin, Brother Alois invited the young people to reflect together on possible ways “towards a new solidarity”. During these last weeks in Taizé, a workshop has brought together volunteers and young visitors to reflect on one accent of this theme: “Solidarity with the whole of creation – our responsibility for the world of tomorrow”. Also, the young people are invited to share a mid day meal in small groups on the question: “Solidarity brings joy: have I already experienced this?”
Thinking back to the pilgrimage to Moscow last year
During my week in Taizé, we had some time to watch the movie that was done during our Easter pilgrimage to Moscow one year ago. After the film we shared some of our experiences in Moscow with the others. The pilgrimage created some lasting connections for many of us, and a sense of closeness and communion with the Russian Orthodox part of the Church, as the Body of Christ. This is made tangible in the prayers of this Easter week, too: every midday prayer we sing “Христос воскресе” (Christ is risen), the song used in the Orthodox liturgy to celebrate the joy of the resurrection. I hope this can be a small first step in making this communion concrete and visible.
Difference but not indifference
Saw Htoo (Myanmar)
It’s amazing to see many people gather in unity and seek the will of God together. People of different ages volunteer themselves to serve. This spirit of service teaches us not to be indifferent. We may be different in many ways, but we can’t afford to be indifferent in any way. Being different is a sign of diversity while being indifferent is a sign of passivity. We need to create more space for other people in our hearts.
April: Easter : “Let us welcome the joy of the Resurrection!”
On Easter morning, the procession of the pascal candle in the Church of Reconciliation
You can experience two of the high points of the Holy Week celebrations:
see images taken at 3pm on Friday
listen to the podcast from the Easter Sunday morning Eucharist.
As Easter approaches, pilgrims from all over Europe and from other countries in the world, arrive in Taizé for the weekend. Many have come for the first time; others are already familiar with life on the hill. Everyone has come to share their common faith. On Maunday Thursday, during the evening Eucharist, Brother Alois washed the feet of the brothers, of some children and of some young people from different continents, in memory of the last supper of the Lord. Like each evening of the week, a prayer intention was said for those who are suffering: Syria.
On Good Friday Christians remember the death of Jesus. Today, Brother Alois went to Paris where he was invited to lead a Way of the Cross on the Champs Elysées, with young people from four continents and hundreds of Parisians.
Meanwhile, at 15 hours, a bell rang out in Taizé – a reminder of the hour given by the Gospel for the moment when Jesus breathed his last. All those who were walking, speaking, singing, working… stopped for several minutes of silence. Many of the young people were very touched by this moment of communion, lived out in silence with the thousands of pilgrims present.
During the evening prayer, the icon of the Cross was carried throughout the Church of Reconciliation by several brothers; then it was laid on the floor, and throughout the night, brothers and young people prayer around it.
Several of the theme workshops helped people enter into the celebrations of the Easter Triduum, like the Easter readings from the Gospels and listening to the Saint Matthew’s Passion
During mid day prayer, the icon of the Resurrection was presented in the church; showing Christ’s descent into hell, from where he draws Adam and Eve. In the evening, a brother from the Netherlands made his lifelong commitment in the community. Afterwards, Brother Alois gave an Easter meditation which concluded with special greetings for young adults from Myanmar who were spending the week in Taizé.
Under a grey sky, some of the young people started preparing for departure early in the morning, taking down their tents and closing up their bags. But once everyone was gathered in the church for the Easter Morning Eucharist, sadness soon turned to joy. From the first sounds of “Lumen Christi”, then the Alleluia” sung for the first time since Ash Wednesday, everyone expressed their joy at the good news of the resurrection of Christ. After the reading of the Gospel and the celebration of the Eucharist, Brother Alois launched the Easter greeting: “Christ is risen” in several dozen languages; to which everyone replied in their own language “He is truly arisen!” At the end of the prayer, with the sun shining brightly and the bells ringing out, the young people could say their goodbyes in joy.
Quite exceptionally, at Easter the day for welcoming new arrivals is Monday and not Sunday. Nearly 4000 young people left and among the 4000 new arrivals during the day, the great majority were German.
During the times of prayer together at Easter, the Bible readings tell of the meetings of the Risen Christ with his disciples and the songs remind everyone of the joy of Easter.
On the way towards Easter
Spring has arrived on the hill! Although the crowds have not arrived yet, the coming Easter celebrations make themselves felt more and more. Among the groups who have visited Taizé over the last few days, there was a number of children from the region taking part in the "awakening to faith"; there were young Germans with disabilities, happy to take part in the practical jobs and to meet the others. One young parson said it was like a reflection of the joy of God.
Preparations for the coming big weeks are well under way. With the help of young visitors, over 50 large tents have gone up in the camping area; the big kitchen has started up again after the winter; the volunteers are getting ready to coordinate the welcome and the practical jobs.
March: Lent, in the joy of turning towards God
Through the month of March, the community and the meetings follow the rhythm of Lent. During these weeks, the prayers take on a special hue, with the sung introductions and appropriate responses. For several days, among the visitors it was young adults from the United States who were most numerous on the hill. A group of pastors from Indonesia also came for a short stay.
The first evening of Lent, called “Ash Wednesday”, the brothers placed a little ashes on the foreheads of the young people present, with the words, addressed to each one personally, “Trust in the Gospel”, which echoes the words of Jesus in Mark 1,15: “The Kingdom of God is close at hand. Turn towards God and trust in the Gospel.” Brother Alois prayed that evening:
God of goodness, today we hear your call: “Come to me with all your heart.” We recognise before you how often we lack charity. But you know our trials and our poverty, and we turn towards you without fear, for you are tenderness and compassion. And the joy of forgiveness becomes our life.
A visit to the World Council of Churches in Geneva
At the beginning of March, Brother Alois, with other brothers and some young adults from many countries, went to Geneva for a time of exchange with the Secretary General of [the World Council of Churches, Olav Fykse Tveit, and the leaders of the World Lutheran Federation and the World Communion of Reformed Churches, Martin Junge and Christine Greenaway.
Prayer together in the chapel of the ecumenical centre
Following their visit, some of the volunteers wrote down some of their impressions.
Clémence (France). “Right after being welcomed, we gathered for a prayer in the style of Taizé, full of a great sense of communion with our hosts. Next, we were taken on a visit to the principle places of the World Council, like the chapel which is so special and full of meaning by its architecture open to the world: for example, in the place of walls, immense wooden panels with squares to let in the light. Our guide also took us to see the vast conference hall which has a tapestry representing symbolically, on a background of green pastures, the different churches of the world.”
Ola (Poland). “The meeting in the big group started off with a very helpful overview of how ecumenism is experienced and lived out in our respective communities, at Taizé, in Geneva and in Bossey. Then small group discussion made it possible for everyone to take part and to be very open in expressing their opinions. Finally, we all came together again to share the different challenges which confront us in the contemporary world and the means that we as Christians can call upon to respond to these challenges.”
Jessica (New Zealand). “It was very interesting for me to hear about the work they are doing which involves discussing issues with various churches and church leaders to help build understanding between these different churches. Their experience of working towards ecumenism through dialogues with different churches is quite different to my experience of trying to live ecumenically while volunteering here in Taizé. However we could all identify with the challenges but also the great beauty of living, praying and working with people from different countries, cultures and churches.”
Sinjo (India). “The most important thing for me was the energy these church leaders dispense in view of a greater unity between Christians, enabling a better understanding of different cultures across the world.”
A vision of life shared by others
Living for seven months at Taizé was for me the sign that I belong to a real Christian family. Now I have so many brothers and sisters around the world. I discovered that to be surrounded by believers in everyday life is a great gift. Sometimes it can be quite challenging to live out your faith in society. But when you know that your vision of life is shared by others it’s easier to be yourself. Thus, I saw that it is more than blood or language that makes people relatives, it is faith.
One of the other great gifts for me personally was prayer in silence. Not too long, but not too short either, just enough for a sincere dialogue with God. By praying regularly I discovered even more how through the Bible God can support and guide us every day.
Youth team putting up tents
February: in the chill of winter
As in most parts of Europe, the winter chill has settled on the hill of Taizé. Although far from large cities, the prayers of the brothers and the young people remembers those who are suffering from the difficult climatic conditions, especially those who in our developed societies are without housing. A group of orphans from Poland, from the region of Lublin, followed after a large number of Czechs who were here at the beginning of February. With the start of the high school vacations, it is now high school students from the South of France who are the most numerous.
Visiting the Community, Pastor Sophie Schlumberger spent a day sharing with the brothers on Bible reflection and the themes being prepared for the meetings over the coming months. Her husband, Pastor Laurent Schlumberger, President of the National Council of the Reformed Church of France, had a meeting with the youth volunteers.
Trust between human beings
During our reflection week at the beginning of February, we considered the theme of “trust between human beings”. After several days of sharing on the value and the difficulties of trust in relationships and putting trust into practise, we met with Pastor Laurent Schlumberger, President of the National Council of the Reformed Church of France, who was making a short visit to Taizé.
Reflecting on the theme of trust, he helped us become aware of the unconditional love of God for each human being, independently of all his or her acts and decisions. In a clear and insistent manner, he developed the conviction: it is God who gives to each person a meaning to life; he assigns a place to each one”
But how do we understand, concretely, the place that God prepares for us? His reply was surprising: “I do not know… and I am not worried about it”. For the fact that God takes care of us goes together with the trust he places in each one of us. A trust that enables us to recognise ourselves as children of God, and to trust in one another and to love one another.
Questions followed: how can I be sure of the trust of God, or what is the relation between trust and egoism and the mistrust that seem so natural to human beings? We reflected together on possible replies, until time ran out and obliged us to bring to an end this interesting afternoon.
January: The Meetings Resume
After the meeting in Berlin, brothers, sisters and volunteers have returned to Taizé. The welcome began again, and the young adult meetings have now begun again in earnest, for example with thirty young people from the United States, mostly Presbyterians. On Epiphany Sunday, after the celebration of the Eucharist, the brothers and all those present came out in front of the Church of Reconciliation to sing one last time near the Christmas crib. On January 12, two years after the earthquake in Haiti, prayer became more intense in communion with that people.
God of goodness, grant us to welcome your mercy and allow it to overflow from our lives to those we meet. Today we entrust to you especially the people of Haiti, those working to rebuild the country. And we thank you for the faith and perseverance to keeps this beloved people on their feet.
Mikaël (France, Toulouse)
During those few days I made many discoveries about my life, my personality and the Bible. Meditating on the announcement of the death and resurrection of Christ in different parts of the Bible made me realize the importance of the person of Jesus in the history of the world, but especially in my life. Thanks to the attention of two volunteers who took care of our meals during the week, and regular meetings with a Taizé brother, we managed in a few days to reach a relative inner silence—a face-to-face encounter with ourselves—which reveals a lot about us. I was able to discover in my personality a lot of very positive things, but this solitude also revealed the less glorious features of my character, about which I now know I must be careful.
I also took long afternoon walks around the countryside of Taizé and meditated in churches in nearby villages. I found in this contact with nature a more peaceful life and a more human pace that I will try to maintain even in a different environment. It was a very rewarding experience, but on the last day after the Eucharist, I was overjoyed to finally be able to talk and laugh again with my friends!